“Here lived Vladimir Naumovich Nagly, theater director. Born 1903. Arrested 21 October 1938. Died 6 October 1940 in a prison camp in Kolyma. Exonerated in 1956.” Last Address memorial plaque at 38 Kolomenskaya Street in Petersburg’s Central District. Photo by the Russian Reader
26 February 2016
House No. 38 on Kolomenskaya Street in St. Petersburg was erected in 1880 during the heyday of historicism in architecture. The building’s architect, Alexander Ivanov, was inspired by the French and Italian Renaissance.
The Tver Charitable Society was housed in the building in the early twentieth century. It provided social support and financial assistance to needy people from Tver who lived in St. Petersburg.
Vladimir Naumovich Nagly lived in the building in the 1930s.
Vladimir Nagly was born in 1903 in Petersburg to the family of a watchmaker. He was a supporter of the October Revolution, joining the the Red Army in 1919, and the Bolshevik Party in 1921. However, he devoted all of his short life to the theater.
In his indictment, dated 26 July 1939, Vladimir Nagly, former director of the Theater of Comedy and Satire (1930–1933), former director of the First Five-Year Plan Park of Culture and Rest (summer 1931), former director of the Central Park of Culture and Rest (summer 1932), former director of the Philarmonic (1932), former deputy director of the Pushkin Academic Drama Theater (1933–1936), former deputy director of Lenfilm Studios (1936–1938) and, at the time of his arrest on 20 October 1938, director of the Theater of Drama and Comedy (now the Theater on Liteiny), was identified as a “guerillla” in a group that was, allegedly, planning to murder Andrei Zhdanov, who at the time was First Secretary of the Leningrad Regional Party Committee and the Municipal Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks).
“It was agreed to invite ZHDANOV to view the pictures during the October Days. This time SMIRNOV [director of Lenfilm] had positioned the guerillas in advance: NAGLY was in a narrow corridor that lead from Smirnov’s office to the screening room. […] The plan was that, after the shooting, the lights would be shut off, panic would ensue in the dark, and [the conspirators] would escape.”
The main point in the indictments ends with praise for the NKVD officers who prevented the “terrorist attack.”
“Turning off the lights after the shooting was envisaged [in all the alleged plans to murder Zhdanov]. On this occasion, however, NKVD officers set up heightened surveillance […] and NAGLY was asked to withdraw from the positions they had taken up. When ZHDANOV arrived at the factory [i.e., Lenfilm] for the film screening, he went through the main entrance. NKVD officers had been positioned from there to the screening room. So, in this case [the conspirators] were unable to commit the heinous deed.”
Vladimir Nagly, who was thirty-six years old, was sentenced to eight years in the camps for involvement in a “right-wing counterrevolutionary Trotskyist-Zinovievist organization.” Although he suffered from a stomach ulcer and had undergone a ten-month-long investigation, prison doctors concluded he was fit for manual labor and the long, gruelling transport to the camps. In his memoirs, Georgy Zzhonov, who would go on to become a famous actor of screen and stage, accidentally recognized Nagly during his own transport to the camps in Kolyma. He described Nagly as “unhealthy.”
Nagly’s death certificate, dated 6 October 1940, and drawn up by officials at the Sevvostlag, listed the cause of death: “He froze to death on the way [to the camp]. There are no other indications.”
The regime admitted the case was a complete frame-up only in 1956, when Nagly was posthumously exonerated.
Vladimir Nagly’s son Mikhail (1926–2012), who was himself a well-known theater director, recalled that, before his father was arrested, the actors Nikolay Cherkasov, Vasili Merkuryev, Yuri Lavrov, and Yekaterina Karchagina-Alexandrovskaya were frequent guests in their spacious flat, and that his father had taken him to a see a rehearsal by the world-famous avant-garde theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold. The family avoided talking about Vladimir Nagly’s plight, and his relatives only recently learned the circumstances of his criminal case and his death.
A plaque in memory of Vladimir Nagly was mounted on the building at 38 Kolomenskaya Street on 28 February 2016.
Thanks to Jenya Kulakova of Last Address for the information about Vladimir Nagly. Translated by the Russian Reader